Maybe, We’re Wrong

It all started as a phone call to my mother. I gave her a short synopsis of my week so far: DramaLab rehearsals, history test to study for, dorm lotteries, etc. Then I mentioned offhand that the Dalai Lama would be giving a lecture in Boston on Saturday, and I would be attending. She brushed it off, laughing that I had better things to do with my time. I laughed along with her, thinking that she was joking. After all, why would I not want to be enlightened by the reincarnation of Tibet’s holiest spiritual and political leader? Then I realized that she was not joking. “He is no good. He’s a fake.” She said it as if it were fact. I was taken aback for a second, then went on the offensive: “You’re just saying that because you’re Chinese through and through, and the Dalai Lama is the leader of a nonviolent campaign against unwarranted Chinese aggression. China has no claim on Tibet and just wants to continue its suffocating and unappreciated rule. And it’s unfair that the Dalai Lama can’t go to his homeland just for the fact that he is a threat to their political hold.” I was very proud of myself. I felt I had analyzed her viewpoint from an unbiased, educated, Economist-reading perspective, and waited, satisfied, for her weak reply. But what I received was unexpected. “Do you know the facts?” she asked, “Tibet has always been a part of China and always will be. And the Dalai Lama is not the peaceful visionary that you imagine. The Chinese government is willing to allow them certain rights and is helping them preserve their culture, but he has been uncooperative and makes irrational demands that aren’t helping Tibet. And Tibetan culture is Chinese culture. We are not rival entities. We are one and the same.” Despite her defense, I still stuck with my approach. The argument soon stagnated as I got more and more flustered, and we left the subject. But after we hung up, I still felt uneasy. I had never really thought to doubt the validity of my beliefs on the issue. But what if what I believe isn’t actually the bona fide truth? What if (evil!) Communist China’s not the bad guy here, but the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, respected throughout the West, is? That very idea was more frightening to me than the scene with the syringes in Saw 2. Thinking about that led me to the question of how I came to those opinions. To start with, I read the news. I subscribe to news alerts from the New York Times, emailed to me daily. Besides that, I watch CNN at home and the occasional Fox (to keep an eye on the enemy). The rest of what I know I gather through passing conversations with the people around me, people who all grew up more or less in the same type of culture I did. In a nutshell, I have developed a completely Ameri-centric view of everything that I— or thought I— knew. Sure, none of these sources is making me think a certain way outright, but when was the last time someone said anything critcizing the Dalai Lama? That is about as non-PC as you can get, besides bashing Toni Morrison. And we all know China is the big bad bully on the block, funding genocide in Darfur and refusing to let go of its unjustified hold on Tibet. Am I right or am I right? When it comes down to it, the reason I was so unnerved by our conversation that day was that I realized I did not take into account that, perhaps, I am wrong. Could it be that my opinions are not valid or, even if they are valid, just a product of my culture? My mother grew up in a small village near Shanghai. Having lived in southern California my entire life, I could not have been brought up more differently. I always blamed her country’s generous use of propaganda for morphing her views. But could it be that my indoctrination into American liberal values was just as significant as hers into Chinese nationalism, and I just never realized it? Michelle Ma is a two-year Lower from Walnut, California.